UN suspends Gaza aid programme after protest turns violent

The UNRWA provides food aid and job creation schemes in the Palestinian enclave

The United Nations has suspended significant operations in Gaza after demonstrators protesting against cuts to the agency’s programmes in the Palestinian enclave breached the organisation’s headquarters.

There have been several demonstrations against cuts to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)’s aid work - specifically cash hand outs to Gazans - in recent weeks but the protests escalated on Thursday when several people stormed its main compound in Gaza city. In response, UNRWA said it would close its relief and distribution centres until it receives guarantees from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, of greater security.

Robert Turner, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, said that the agency, “respect[ed] people’s right to peaceful demonstration but what happened today was completely unacceptable: the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff and to the demonstrators. This escalation, apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented. These demonstrations affect our ability to provide much needed service to the Palestine refugees in Gaza and - because they also targeted the Gaza headquarters building - our operations in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.”

UNRWA’s work is vital in Gaza. The organisation provides assistance – including food aid and job creation schemes - to more than 800,000 people in the isolated territory, which is subject to tough controls imposed by both Israel and Egypt. However, UNRWA has also protested that it has a funding deficit of $67m and that without more money it will be forced to scale back its activities.

The agency receives money from a number of western donors, including the US and the European Union, and often there is a shortfall between what is pledged and what is subsequently paid. It is believed that there is a shortage in both UNRWA’s general fund, and its emergency project funding, which competes with other disaster appeals.

Unemployment is a grave problem in Gaza, and much of UNRWA’s work centred on job creation projects. Gaza’s population – between 1.5 and 1.7 million – is growing exponentially and is expected to top two million within seven years. More than a million people are classified as refugees.

UNRWA has a difficult relationship with Hamas, despite providing a lifeline for as much as half the population in Gaza. There have been rows about what is taught in UNRWA-sponsored schools and last month, UNRWA cancelled the running of the annual Gaza marathon after Hamas refused to allow women to compete.

Hamas yesterday urged UNRWA to reconsider its decision to suspend its work. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, said the group condemned any violence against UNRWA but said the decision to close the food centres as “unjustified”.

“People have the right to protest against UNRWA’s cuts, but at the same time we condemn any violence against the organisation. When the administration of UNRWA asked the Palestinian security services to intervene, they stopped the chaos. We ask UNRWA to reconsider its decision and [reiterate] the importance of UNRWA’s role in helping Palestinian refugees,” he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Commercial Training

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The business development manage...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent